Death Line, mind the doors – Blu Ray Review
Previously available only on DVD in the UK, Death Line has been newly scanned to 2K resolution from the original 35mm camera negative and extensively restored in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 for this exclusive UK Blu-ray release. The restoration involved careful grain management, both automated and manual removal of film dirt and damage, and correction of major instability, warping and density fluctuations.
When young couple Alex Campbell (David Ladd) and Patricia Wilson (Sharon Gurney) get off the last train to Russell Square train station, they notice an unconscious man near the platform. Unable to help him on their own they make their way to the surface and find a police officer at the station entrance, however when they return the body is gone. When the missing person is identified as an important government official, an investigation is undertaken by sceptical Inspector Calhoun (Donald Pleasence) and his assistant Detective Sergeant Rogers (Norman Rossington). Things seem amiss at first when their missing person enquiries into are halted by Stratton-Villiers, MI5 (Christopher Lee) who closes the case, but when two bodies are found murdered on the platform, they are now investigating a possible homicide. As they continue to investigate they suddenly realise that there is something more sinister at work than just a missing person.
My introduction into the horror genre was with the classic with British films of the 70’s; with Hammer horror and Amicus anthologies being amongst some of my favourite memories. Death Line or as it was released in America Raw Meat is another film which seems to fit into that classic era horror and despite having an American director Gary Sherman it still maintains a very British feel.
After watching the film for the first time there were two things which have always stayed with me. One is the appearance of Gary Sherman as ‘The Man’, whose makeup still looks effective today with his puss filled boils and deteriorating features. The second was the immortal phrase “Mind the doors”, which my father used to duplicate when we travelled on the London underground and we would hear the announcement from someone on the platform or over the tannoy. It is a simple concept used in the film but is a sound which would have resonated with a lot of people at the time and has stayed with me.
I have always felt that Death Line is one of those films which are is often overlooked. This is surprising because its macabre conceptions involving generations of cannibalism and incest makes it stand out when compared to other horror films of the time. Surprisingly when you considering the matter of the film, it isn’t as morbid as you may expect. In fact, the film has two separate elements which seem to reflect the tone of the film differently depending on where the events are taking place. Events above ground have a comical light-hearted tone, with a consistent witty humour which is derived mainly from Donald Pleasance’s dismissive character. Events taking place underground, however, have a darker more eerie tone, where it builds a sense of dread and horror.
When I first saw the film when I was younger, I saw it just as full-on horror, Hugh Armstrong’s performance as the ‘man’, with the excellent makeup was what made an impression. However, when I revisit the film, it is Donald Pleasance who really stands out. An eccentric personality which balances between being deeming and witty, with a working-class attitude which stops him from becoming a parody. It demonstrates a comical side that people may not be aware of, especially for those who may only associate him with the Halloween series as Dr Samuel Loomis.
In contrast, Hugh Armstrong’s does give an excellent performance as ‘The Man’. In addition to his grotesque physical appearance, there is a primitive animalistic savagery to his character, but there is also an element of loneliness and unknowing. In some respects, ‘The Man’ feels very much like Frankenstein’s monster and you find yourself sympathising with the character because he knows no difference. One clever scene is where ‘The Man’ is trying to communicate with someone he has taken underground, but due to his constant solitude his only way of communicating is through his incoherent groans and a repetitive phrase “Mind the doors”. You can see his frustrations at being unable to communicate which makes it quite a conflicting scene. However, with the life he has lead being segregated from the normal world, I don’t think even if he could talk there wouldn’t be much of a discussion over a candlelit dinner before he makes his intentions clear.
The weakness in the film, unfortunately, is the synthesiser soundtrack. The looping 70’s erotica style opening theme adds a bit of humour to the character, but it soon becomes frustratingly repetitive (especially as it is also used in the main menu). The worst scenes, however, is a fight on the train platform where we get an erratic barrage of sounds, which is more distracting than anything else and didn’t work with the scene.
The best use of sound is used during a panning shot underground, where we can hear the slow dripping of water as it lands. With some clever cuts to make it look as one shot, the camera circulates around the room where it unveils the decaying bodies, filled maggots and rats before pulling back into the tunnels. It is a fantastic scene which really takes several minutes to unfold with an unexpected conclusion where it replicates through sound the previous events in the tunnel. Admittedly as with some of the kills which occur in the film some of the more gruesome effects including the dead corpses may not look so realistic now, but thankfully the skilled execution of the scene makes and impact and is still excellent to watch.
The new Blu Ray release of Death Line looks fantastic and the film itself holds up really well today. There are a few areas of the transfer such as on the trains where images could not be upgraded, but this is by far the best version of the film to date and compared to previous versions looks like a new film. With themes which are ahead of its time, it is surprising that Death Line has been continuously overlooked, but hopefully with a new definitive Blu Ray release will now finally get it the attention it deserves, and people will remember to “Mind the doors”.
- Mind the Doors!: an interview with Hugh Armstrong
- Limited edition, a collectable booklet written by Laura Mayne
- Theatrical Trailer
- Image Gallery
Mind the Doors
Another overlooked 70’s classic gets a stunning Blu Ray treatment